Farce among the swells

June 08, 1994|By Russell Baker

FOR a long time the bumper stickers said, "Virginia Is For Lovers." This was silly. Virginia for lovers? Surely it hadn't come to that for the Old Dominion.

For lovers? Virginia, Mother of Presidents, was being advertised as just another piece of hot-mattress geography like Las Vegas?

As a Virginian, I found the slogan distasteful. A pleasure of being Virginian is the right to find distasteful things distasteful. People of other states feel obliged to admire their states' worst features even when they don't.

I have heard people of other states boast about their caves, their locusts, their traffic jams, their reeking stockyards, their insufferable slums and their unbearable climates.

Virginians don't have to do that. They are supposed to be snooty -- "elitist," to use the vogue word. So it was distasteful seeing the old place boomed as a love nest, and it was all right to say so. Let provincial states stand loyally by their tourist bureaus. Not Virginians. Virginians don't have to abase themselves before the vulgarities of salesmanship.

In fact, it would be more precise for bumper stickers to proclaim, "Virginia Is For Elitists."

Even more correct: "Virginia Is For Horses." Is there any other state whose highways are cluttered all weekend by horse owners taking their horses out for rides in horse trailers?

"Virginia Is For Tax Haters" would be all right too, for the dominance of soak-the-poor tax theory makes Virginia a paradise for the well heeled who have suffered the soak-the-well-heeled tax theories of places like Massachusetts and New York.

Or why not, "Virginia Is For Pavers"? It is a state of magnificent highways, the product of an unstoppable road-building bureaucracy known by the Darth Vaderish name of "V-DOT," an acronym for Virginia Department of Transportation.

Now, however, Virginia descends into farce. It is embarking on what promises to be the most entertaining campaign since Madison and Jefferson invented the Democratic Party.

With this show on the road to titillate all America, a new bumper sticker is in order: "Virginia Is For Fun Lovers."

The circus opened over the weekend when Republicans in convention nominated Oliver North, the Marine shredder, deceiver of Congress and hater of Washington, as their candidate for the Senate.

The seat he wants is held by another former marine, Charles S. Robb, a Democrat. Charles, always called "Chuck," is married to former President Johnson's daughter Lynda Bird and burdened with a playboy reputation based on reports of wild weekends with a fun-loving crowd at Virginia Beach and his own tale of a massage-by-beauty-queen in a New York hotel.

Many Virginians, whatever their politics, are appalled by their options. Oliver North, after all, was convicted for violating the law the Iran-contra scandal before being de-convicted on the most technical of legal technicalities. To many, Chuck Robb's lack of devotion to wife and family values makes him as odious as Oliver's record of contempt for the laws of the land.

Result: At least two other Democrats and one other Republican all threaten to run for Chuck's seat. One of the Democrats is a legislator with the notable name Virgil Goode. The other is former Gov. Douglas Wilder. Douglas and Chuck detest each other.

Ugly as this seems for the Democrats, the Republican prospect is no prettier. The state's senior senator, John Warner, a Republican and onetime husband of Elizabeth Taylor, has declared Oliver "unfit" for the Senate because of lack of integrity.

He backs a candidacy for J. Marshall Coleman, whose mainstream Republican credentials contrast with North's support from evangelical Christians and the sort of conservatives who approve violating the law when they think the cause is just.

If the future for both parties looks chaotic, the prospect for all who love a circus is glorious. Consider: five candidates, two violently split parties, tales of massage and perjury and criminal shredding, old-time religion amok all over the map, a sulking senator, a man named Goode, and who knows what else.

Madison and Jefferson it's not, but what state can top it for sport? Yes, Virginia, you truly are for fun lovers.

Russell Baker is a columnist for the New York Times.

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